The Union’s roster includes veterans of World Cups, the UEFA and Concacaf Champions Leagues, South America’s Copa Libertadores, and many of Europe’s top domestic leagues.
But for all the worldly experience of the team’s 29 players, just two have ever won an MLS playoff game: midfielder Warren Creavalle and centerback Aurélien Collin.
Creavalle played for the Houston Dynamo when they reached the title game in 2012 and the Western Conference final in 2013. Collin was across the field in 2013 with Sporting Kansas City, which went on to win the title. He also won playoff games in 2011 and 2012.
On Sunday, the Union’s other 27 players will try to add that line to their resumes when the New York Red Bulls come to Talen Energy Stadium (3 p.m., Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes).
Does the past matter all that much? It often doesn’t in MLS, but sometimes it does. In addition to the Union’s history — which includes not hosting a playoff game since 2011 — the Red Bulls have never won an MLS Cup in all 24 seasons of the league’s existence, despite finishing atop the Eastern Conference six times. They’ve reached the title game only once.
So, both of these teams know well that the playoffs are a different beast from the regular season, especially in the league’s new single-game knockout format.
When Creavalle’s and Collin’s rare status was pointed out to them a few days ago, they had the same reaction: “That’s crazy.”
Both players are likely to be on the bench Sunday, not in the starting lineup. They can still help plenty, though, especially in advising the Union’s younger players on what to expect.
“It’s going to be an intense atmosphere, and you just have to lean into it as opposed to shy away from it,” said Creavalle, who played in the Union’s 2016 and 2018 playoff losses. “I think they’re great players, and they’ll do just that.”
Collin’s words come with tangible and intangible weight. He earned his championship ring by scoring the winning penalty kick in the 2013 title game.
“We should not put them in too much pressure,” Collin said. “Of course, it’s a game that’s more important than any of the games we had this season, but let’s make sure that they [are] the same that they’ve been playing [as], because they’ve been very serious and good on the field."
Collin knows the Red Bulls especially well. He played for them from 2016-18, and won the Supporters’ Shield last season. He knows all about Roy Miller’s free kick, the Curse of Caricola, Metro Playoff Fever, and other tales told since the old MetroStars days.
This year’s team isn’t as good as past ones, but Collin is drawn to a stat that makes him wary: 18 New York players have scored at least one goal this season.
“In the last [few] years, the Red Bulls were arriving in the playoffs tired. They were focusing a lot on the [regular] season,” he said. “This was the first year that you saw that they rotated a lot of players. … So we have to be very, very careful because their philosophy is if they fit, they’re very, very good.”
Collin also believes that his team and its fans will be ready to make history of their own.
“It’s going to be a party. It’s going to be amazing,” he said. “Let’s finish that day with a win.”